Formula for separating Super Bowl contenders from pretenders

Oct 18, 2017 |
Formula for separating Super Bowl contenders from pretenders
Our projections tell us that former NFL MVP Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers fit the profile as potential winners in Super Bowl LII this coming February in Minnesota.
Photo By - USA Today Images
Our projections tell us that former NFL MVP Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers fit the profile as potential winners in Super Bowl LII this coming February in Minnesota.
Photo By - USA Today Images

We are six weeks through the 16-game NFL season and you could make an argument we know less now about who’ll win the Super Bowl than we did before the campaign kicked off.

The New England Patriots, the heavy preseason favorites to lift the Lombardi Trophy at +250, are 4-2 straight up and have yet to blow the doors off any opponent. The Green Bay Packers – the early favorites to win the NFC – lost their starting quarterback for what could be the rest of the season.

The Atlanta Falcons have lost two straight games at home to AFC East teams not named the Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers starting quarterback is thinking about his retirement plans and the Seattle Seahawks have been held to 16 or fewer points in three of their five games.

Outside of the winless Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers, the league is littered with squads sporting 2-3, 3-3 and 3-2 records. It makes it difficult for Peter King and the rest of us to fill out our Fine Fifteen lists with such a large legion of less than legendary football teams.

We examined the past 14 Super Bowl winners in an attempt to find common traits previous champions possessed and see which teams this season share those same qualities. So allow us to clear the fog in the crystal ball and help bettors separate the contenders from the pretenders to win Super Bowl LII.

Keep in mind we are looking at data through six weeks of the season and some of the qualifiers we’re using are based on season-ending statistics.

Team Must Have a .500 or Better Record by Week 6

All but one of the previous 14 Super Bowl winners had more Ws than Ls after Week 6 of the season. The only team without a winning record was the 2010 Green Bay Packers and they were 3-3 at the six-week mark.

2017 teams eliminated: Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Oakland Raiders, Los Angeles Chargers, Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cincinnati Bengals.

Team Must Have More Points Scored than Allowed

Only one team in the last 14 years won a Super Bowl with a negative plus/minus in points for and points against. The 2011 New York Giants entered that season’s playoffs having allowed six more points than they’d scored during the campaign.

2017 teams eliminated: Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets and Miami Dolphins.

Team’s Total Offense Must Rank 22nd or Better

The average rank in total offense for the previous 14 Super Bowl winners is 11.6, but the worst offense on a championship team was the 2008 Steelers, who finished at No. 22 in total offense.

2017 teams eliminated: Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions.

So far we’ve eliminated 18 of the 32 teams in the NFL. Let’s try and whittle the list down even more.

Team’s Preseason Super Bowl Odds Must be +3000 or Better

There just aren’t a lot of longshots cashing these days like at the beginning of the century when the 1999 St. Louis Rams and 2001 New England Patriots were making oddsmakers look foolish. The biggest preseason longshot to win a Super Bowl since 2003 are the ’07 G-Men who needed a miracle helmet catch to upset an undefeated Pats team in the title game.

Teams eliminated: Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams, Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Team’s Total Defense Must Rank 27th or Better

Not a big ask, right? The ’11 Giants again pollute the average rank here because of their smelly defensive performance in the regular season. The ’09 Saints’ defense ranked at No. 25 but they made up for it by possessing the league’s best offense.

Teams eliminated: New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs

OK, we’re down to six teams: Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Houston, Minnesota, Carolina and Atlanta. Let’s toss out Green Bay and Minnesota because who the hell knows what’s going on with the quarterback situations on those clubs.

That leaves us now with two teams from the AFC and two from the NFC. The current Super Bowl odds for those teams: Steelers +850, Falcons +1400, Panthers +2200 and Texans +3300.

We’ll see how things play out as the season progresses – maybe the Patriots defense improves, maybe the Seahawks work out the bugs on offense – but as it stands now we’ve got four teams who fit the Super Bowl-winning formula.

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